The Extraordinary Almost-Olympian Charlotte Drury and the Trials of Type 1 Diabetes

It was 2020 – right around the dawn of the pandemic in the United States – when Charlotte Drury’s athletic abilities mysteriously began to decline.

“I wasn’t building any muscle, I wasn’t getting any better. And I was training more and more because I could feel myself regressing. My skills just got worse and worse.”

Charlotte, now 25, is a trampoline gymnast. She’s a former world champion and knows her body well. She knew something was wrong.

“Am I just past my prime? Am I not trying hard enough?”

“Looking back, it’s nice to have an explanation that it wasn’t my fault.”

It wasn’t her fault. Charlotte Drury was about to find out that she had type 1 diabetes.

The Lost Year

If gymnastics fans already know Charlotte Drury for one thing, it’s for an earlier and unrelated health catastrophe. In 2016, with the Rio Olympics about to take place, Charlotte was considered America’s best female trampoline gymnast. In previous years she had won individual gold at both the World Cup and the USA Gymnastics Championships. But her Olympics dream was crushed when she broke her ankle during the final qualifying event of the season.

The tragic injury could have ended her competitive career, but Charlotte decided to give the Olympics another shot. She’s fearless—you sort of have to be to make a living flying 30 feet into the air while flipping and twisting.

“I was on top of my game when the pandemic hit. But suddenly, I was all by myself, and training started to get really, really hard. At first, I just chalked it up to training alone in the middle of a pandemic.”

“Later, I was struggling with some depression. I told myself, you’re probably just fatigued from the depression, it’s in your head, you just have to push through.”

It wasn’t in her head. Charlotte was suffering from acute hyperglycemia due to her undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. The critical lack of insulin in her body meant that she wasn’t getting energy from the food she ate. Insulin is a growth hormone and promotes fat storage; without it, our muscles falter, our bodies wither, and the calories we desperately need are flushed uselessly out with our urine.

Later she would recognize that there were other red flags – a bizarrely increased thirst, a new tendency to pee in the middle of the night. But as her body failed her in real-time, she found reasons to disbelieve what was happening.

“I basically gaslit myself into believing it was all in my head for almost a year.”

In December 2020, Charlotte visited her doctor to discuss her depression, which she mistakenly thought was at the root of her troubles. Shockingly, she was still four months away from understanding what was plaguing her. Finally, the mounting setbacks just became too much to ignore.

“In April [2021], we had a national team training camp. I knew how hard I’d been working, and I was looking at everyone around me and realized that there was something wrong with me. There’s absolutely no way I could be this far behind. Something was wrong.”

“There’s a lot of power needed in this sport. I could barely make my triples anymore, and I’ve been making those skills since I was 16.”

The Diagnosis

As soon as Charlotte got home from the camp, she called her doctor, who ordered up bloodwork. Soon thereafter the doctor called her and told her that she was experiencing a medical emergency.

“She said, ‘You have type 1 diabetes. You need to come in right now.’”

Charlotte’s A1c was 14.6%, and her blood glucose over 500 mg/dL. Despite the length of time it took to get a proper diagnosis, she can probably still thank her uncommon awareness of her own physical condition for avoiding diabetic ketoacidosis. Had she not been so in tune with her physical fitness, as professional athletes need to be, who knows how long it would have taken to make that call to the doctor?

Now at last she had an explanation, but a bittersweet one—her life had changed unalterably. And, oh yeah, if she wanted a chance to join the competition she’d spend her entire life preparing for, she had just a few months to figure everything out.

Charlotte Drury Bounces Back

For the first two weeks, she was “miserable.”

“Mentally I was just done. I thought there was no way I could go to the Olympics. There’s no way I can figure out how to manage this, get healthy and strong enough, and train in three months. It was really, really overwhelming.”

At first Charlotte was only taking basal insulin, so “I was still having these crazy mealtime spikes.” It took days of advocacy by her diabetes educator to get the prescription for fast-acting mealtime insulin that she so clearly needed. And she was still coming to grips with the enormity of her diagnosis.

“When I first was told that I had to start mealtime insulin, I just broke down and started crying. I have to do what every time I eat?

But once Charlotte started using rapid mealtime insulin, “it was an incredible turnaround.”

“After two weeks of getting my blood sugars back in range, I literally felt like a different person. A completely different person.”

Her training improved overnight. She regained energy and mental clarity. Her muscles came back to life.

“I had no idea how bad I was feeling until I started to feel good. And now I will do anything to feel this good. I will do the injections, I will monitor, I will wear whatever devices you want – anything to feel good again.”

And suddenly, the Olympics didn’t seem so far-fetched after all.

Trials and Tribulations

Charlotte’s comeback was never going to be easy.

In a mini-documentary filmed prior to her diagnosis—highly recommended for a good look at how insane trampoline gymnastics really is—Charlotte says that repeatedly bouncing as high as 30 feet into the air feels like riding a rollercoaster. The blood sugar rollercoaster was not what she had in mind.

Consider, for a moment, just how dangerous hypoglycemia could be in the life of a trampoline gymnast. Imagine first perceiving a severe blood sugar low while you’re soaring through the air, and what might happen when you land with anything less than precise technique.

The first time Charlotte got hit with a blood sugar low on the trampoline, “I immediately started crying and hyperventilating. ‘Something’s wrong, get me off the equipment!’”

Now imagine developing a comprehensive eating and insulin dosing regimen that allows you to maximize your athletic potential on the global stage, and doing it in a matter of weeks.

“I’m still in the days of figuring it out.”

Charlotte told me that trampoline training is more or less like the most difficult HIIT or CrossFit exercise you’ve ever imagined. 20 seconds of pure max effort, a minute or two of rest, and repeat. For two hours. Those intense workouts are usually preceded by some 30 minutes of vigorous warmup work, cardio that can drive blood sugar down before the stress and effort of the routine drives it back up. Good luck preparing properly for all that.

“It’s a lot of moving parts.”

Life still throws up curveballs. Just when Charlotte thought she had a system down, a trip to Italy for an important round of Olympic trials taught her just how powerfully unanticipated variables can impact diabetes management.

“Everything I knew went out the window.”

During her first practice in Italy, her blood sugar dropped from 100 mg/dL to 48 within 5 minutes. “It felt like I got hit by a wall. It took me three juiceboxes to get back to 70.” That hypo took a full 30 minutes to recover from, 30 minutes of vital practice time on competition equipment that she lost and couldn’t get back.

A Gold Medal Teammate

One of her “saving graces” has been her roommate, the Olympic gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, who has had close family members with insulin-treated type 2 diabetes. Actually, it was Laurie who first told me Charlotte’s story.

“Laurie came in clutch. She came to my doctor’s appointment, she came to my endo appointment, she was taking notes, she’s my Dexcom pal and when I go low in the night she opens a juicebox and brings it to me.”

“There’s a lot of things that I’m very grateful for. When it rains, it pours, but I’ve got a lot of friends and support to help hold an umbrella up.”

The 2021 Olympics

When I first talked to Charlotte, she had completed two of the three trial events that would determine which Americans would make the Olympic team. Despite her remarkable turnaround since beginning insulin treatment, she still wasn’t yet performing at her peak, and her scores reflected that. To make the Olympics, she told me, “I’m gonna have to pull out something pretty amazing in the last trial.”

She almost did exactly that. At the USA Gymnastics Championships in late June, Charlotte nailed her routine and placed second. It didn’t get her the coveted single spot as an Olympic competitor, but was good enough to get her named the alternate on the team. In the following days, she was downgraded to second alternate after a controversial decision to let another teammate re-try her routine. So, Charlotte will be going to Tokyo as a member of the Olympic team, but with an exceedingly low chance of actually competing.

There’s no question in Charlotte Drury’s mind that if she hadn’t developed type 1 diabetes, she’d be competing in Tokyo. But an entire year of frustrating and ineffective practice was just too much to overcome.

Looking Forward

Charlotte hasn’t ruled out another run on the Olympics. The Paris games are only three years away, after all, and her strong final performance has her optimistic about her potential to earn the spot that she might have already won twice were it not for medical disaster. She told me that she’d like to see what she’s capable of after she regains her peak physical condition and combines it with the hard-earned wisdom of the last five difficult years.

Meanwhile, she’s strategizing how to get started on her dream career, a good one for an uncommonly sensitive and fearless young woman. Charlotte wants to be a photojournalist, documenting global suffering and conflict, and is ready to throw herself into war zones to do it.

No matter what comes next, she’s determined that her new condition won’t get in her way: “This won’t stop me.”

“I want to be proud of how far I’ve come so quickly, but at the same time, I didn’t really have a choice, just like anyone with type 1.”

 

All photos courtesy of Charlotte Drury.

Source: diabetesdaily.com

My Running Journey with Type 1 Diabetes

By Mariel Sotelo

I am 43 years old, was diagnosed just before I turned 20 years old.

The doctor misdiagnosed me with type 2. After the diagnosis of my middle daughter, I understood why I was misdiagnosed. She was diagnosed as a MODY 3 and she is now being treated with oral medication. I started with oral medication and three years later, I got married and was planning to grow our family. I started to research insulin pumps. My endocrinologist had no idea about any of the pumps, but he signed off on the paperwork within a few months of me getting pregnant with my first daughter. As she turned one, I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter. After I had my second daughter the weight just piled on from there. After my oldest started school is when I decided to do something about the weight and my sugar. I met the gym owner who is the one responsible for me starting my love/hate relationship with running.

In 2013 we started to train for our first half marathon. It was not an easy thing for me to do. I could not just say I am going out for a run like the rest of them. Why? Because I have type 1 diabetes (T1D) and at first it was trial and error just to figure out how to handle the pump, the blood glucose, and the effort put into it. I always love the idea of having to use less insulin after a run.

marathon medals

Photo credit: Mariel Sotelo

After running a few more half marathons, everyone decided it was time to go to the next level. I was a little scared, but not because of my diabetes. I was scared because everyone was getting faster and it seemed like I wasn’t making any progress. I have continued to run no matter how fast or how slow I am. I know I have T1D and that alone is a hassle sometimes, but I know that a lot of the women that now run in the group say that they started and continue to run because of me! They feel inspired when they see that no matter what, I do not back out from running.

Even COVID-19 did not stop me from completing a challenge I had signed up for back in November of 2019. My first run was completing a half marathon in May which I had to do a week after a 14-day quarantine after contracting COVID-19 from work and having mild symptoms. I have to say, I did have some concerns with my lungs, but I did okay and was able to finish. On October 25th, I completed my 8th marathon which was part of the challenge. On the weekend of November 14th and 15th, I finished my 9th marathon. I ran 14 miles on the 14th for World Diabetes Day and 12.2 miles on the 15th to complete my run.

Diabetes has not stopped me from running! I am not the fastest runner of the group but I always reach the finish line!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

Mark Andrews: A Tight End with Type 1 Diabetes

This content originally appeared on Beyond Type 1. Republished with permission.

By Katie Doyle

The Baltimore Ravens didn’t choose just any offensive lineup during the 2018 NFL draft – a key part of their strategy is Mark Andrews, a tight end from the University of Oklahoma who has been managing his type 1 diabetes since before he started playing football and into his rookie season.

Beyond Type 1 spoke with Mark about his pre-game rituals, how technology like the Dexcom G6 helps him stay on top of type 1 on long Sunday afternoons, and why it’s important to use his high-profile career to educate and advocate with National Diabetes Awareness month coming up.

How have you managed your diabetes through major life changes, like going away to college, playing a division 1 sport, or going through the NFL draft?

I was diagnosed at 9 years old, and it was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. At that moment, I knew it was serious because it wasn’t something my dad did very often. And since then, my family has been my rock. I was lucky enough to have a dad who was also a doctor and had an understanding of diabetes when I first was diagnosed.

Personally, I wasn’t very nervous. I knew that one day I wanted to move out, play football at a Division 1 level and ultimately play in the NFL. It’s something I was always very diligent about. I wasn’t going to let my nerves or anything else get in the way of that. My mom probably worried most, but my dad was instrumental in instructing my whole family in what to expect and what to know. I rely on them a ton. Using a CGM allows them to be a part of it and know my numbers at all times. It gives them peace of mind to be able to check in on me.

Mark

Image source: Beyond Type 1

How does your family support you from across the country?

My mom will always be my mom, so she still checks on me regularly. Last week, she texted me and said, ‘Hey, I don’t think you have enough complex carbs on board, you’ve been going low and trending low a lot. Just want you to eat something that gives you more complex carbs. I love you, hope you’re having a good week; I’ll talk to you soon!”

It’s awesome to get a text message like that and know my family has my back. After that, I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich just to have that background complex carb and went about my day. It’s always good having people look out for you — the more eyes you have on someone with diabetes, the better.

I’ve got a teammate right now named Orlando Brown whose dad had diabetes so he’s incredibly well-informed. He was my college teammate and now he’s my NFL teammate with the Ravens. He’s always wondering what my numbers are, and I actually share my numbers with him from my Dexcom.

When did you feel comfortable enough to talk to your friends and teammates about diabetes?

At first, I remember feeling a little bit reserved and not being totally open about it. I’d go hide in a corner to test. I also remember the first time my friends saw me testing my blood sugar. I was 10 or 11 years old, and they saw blood and thought it was cool. I was kind of in the spotlight because they were so interested in what I was doing.

That opened me up to be more vocal and to share what I’m doing and how I deal with things. After that, I became really comfortable sharing what I deal with having T1D and how I deal with it and sharing with others. I was very open talking to my coaches, and I had my parents to help me out with that, and they still do that to this day. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to talk about it and shed light on what people with diabetes have to do.

Tell us about your pre-game ritual.

I do something a little bit different: I wear a pump, so I use that for basal (25%) and I use Lantus for my other type of basal (75%) on a normal day. But on a game day, I’ll go 100% Lantus — that allows me to be off the pump for long periods of time but not have to worry.

Knowing your body is key. Knowing what I put in my body and how it will affect me is something that I feel has been instrumental for my health. I’m a big fan of complex carbs; I eat peanut butter and jellies, especially on game days or the day before a game, just allowing myself to have that complex carb to hold me over while I’m exerting a lot of energy.

Having my Dexcom, and the way it allows me to see my blood glucose trends and see what foods react a certain way has been huge for me. There’s a lot that goes into diabetes management, and I think it’s incredible that I can rely on Dexcom and not have to prick my fingers all the time. It really sets me up for success on the field.

Who are your role models?

I didn’t know anyone else with diabetes growing up, but I have my dad, who is extremely knowledgeable and always researching different things. He’s the reason I went to 100% Lantus for game days.

I can remember, at a young age, having diabetes and seeing Jay Cutler in the League, and being able to tell myself that it’s possible. I adopted a mindset that this disease is a part of who I am, but it’s not going to define me and it’s never going to stop me in achieving my dreams. Football is my passion, it’s what I love, but now it’s my job, and diabetes is something I refuse to let affect my job.

You seem like you have a ritual down for games, but how about during the NFL draft? How were you feeling then?

There’s so much work that had been put into that moment, from my mom driving me to soccer practice, to all those hard hours put in on the field, it all lead to that moment of actually playing in the NFL. It was kind of scary to know that that you’re putting your future into someone else’s hands — into 32 organizations’ hands — but this has been my dream for a very, very long time.

Why is it important for young athletes with type 1 to have role models?

To be put on this stage, I’ve always wanted to give back and for me, that’s with diabetes — that hits home for me. Helping kids with diabetes is something that I’ve found has given me the most reward: raising awareness and talking to people about how I use technology and what I do with it, it’s to help people with everyday life and share some of that.

I’m going to work as hard as I can to be the best tight end that I can be, and hopefully one of the premiers tight ends in the League. I want kids to see where I’m at today, like I saw Jay Cutler, and I hope it inspires them to go out there and play sports and be active — to follow their dreams, no matter what they may be. A professional football player? Great! Go out and achieve it. Or if anything else, you know, This guy’s playing football at the highest level, then I can do anything else!

Source: diabetesdaily.com

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